- The US government is banning all federal agencies from
using software developed by Kaspersky Labs, an elite Russian
- The move could be part of the US’ effort to punish
Russia for its aggressive behavior in the cyber space.
- Experts say this could be “just the beginning” of the
US’ campaign against Russia’s cyber industry.
The US government’s decision this week to ban all federal
agencies from using software developed by
elite cybersecurity firm Kaspersky Labs could be the first
salvo in a broader effort to take aim at Russia’s cyber
The order came from Elaine Duke, the Acting Secretary of Homeland
Security, who gave federal agencies 90 days to get rid of all
Kaspersky software from their networks, The Washington Post
reported on Wednesday.
“The Department is concerned about the ties between certain
Kaspersky officials and Russian intelligence and other government
agencies, and requirements under Russian law that allow Russian
intelligence agencies to request or compel assistance from
Kaspersky and to intercept communications transiting Russian
networks,” the DHS said in a statement.
“The risk that the Russian government, whether acting on
its own or in collaboration with Kaspersky, could capitalize on
access provided by Kaspersky products to compromise federal
information and information systems directly implicates U.S.
national security,” the statement continued.
The US intelligence community has long been wary of Kaspersky and
its possible ties to the Kremlin.
The company is currently under active FBI
counterintelligence investigation, and the Senate Intelligence
the nature of its
relationship to the Kremlin, calling it an “important
national security issue.”
The FBI also interviewed at
least a dozen employees of the firm in late June, visiting
them at their homes on the East and West Coasts to
information about how Kaspersky
Kaspersky’s products are widely used across the US, and
officials worry that Russian state actors could exploit
Kaspersky’s software and gain access to sensitive user data as
well as critical infrastructure.
Alex McGeorge, the head of threat intelligence at Immunity
Inc., told Business Insider that the US government’s
decision to ban federal agencies from using Kaspersky products
could be part of an effort to punish Russia for its
increasingly aggressive behavior in the cyber arena, and will
likely be more effective than more traditional avenues for
recourse, like imposing economic sanctions.
A central figure in the cyber space
Russia has increasingly
emerged as a central
following a slew of high-profile
cyberattacks carried out across the globe over the past few
years. In addition to interfering in the US election, Russia is
also thought to be the culprit behind an elaborate effort to turn
Ukraine into a cyber-weapon testing ground.
In 2015, a massive
cyberattack leveled against the country’s power grid cut
electricity to almost 250,000 Ukrainians. Cybersecurity experts
linked the attack to IP addresses associated with Russia.
Since then, Wired
magazine’s Andy Greenberg reported, Ukraine has seen a
growing crisis in which an increasing number of corporations and
government agencies have been hit by cyberattacks in a “rapid,
Officials also believe Russia may have
been behind this
summer’s “Petya” cyberattack that
crippled countries and corporations across the globe.
Investigators have additionally linked Russia
to attacks on at least a
dozen US nuclear facilities. The hacks, though confined to the
enterprise side of the nuclear plants, raised red flags as they
could be a preliminary step toward an attack against the US power
grid, cybersecurity experts previously told Business Insider.
Perhaps most notably, the US intelligence community concluded
that Russia was behind an elaborate and
multi-faceted influence campaign aimed at tilting the 2016
election in Donald Trump’s favor. That effort included, among
other things, cyberattacks against the Democratic National
Committee and breaching US voting systems in as many as 39
states in an attempt to target and manipulate voter data.
‘A continued trend’
The US’ actions against Kaspersky could be “just the
beginning” of its retaliation against Russia and could prompt a
chain reaction “we’re only just beginning to see,” McGeorge
Greg Martin, the CEO of cybersecurity firm JASK, echoed
that assessment, telling Business Insider that the US’ apparent
shift toward targeting key players in Russia’s cyber industry
will likely be “a continued trend.”
Federal agencies are not the only ones who have cut ties
with Kaspersky. Last week, it emerged that Best Buy, the
country’s largest electronics retailer, had pulled all Kaspersky
products from its shelves and its website.
A source told Star Tribune, which first broke the news,
that Best Buy felt there were “too many unanswered
questions” about Kaspersky’s dealings, which prompted its
decision to end its relationship with the firm. In addition to
federal agencies banning Kaspersky, the US’ largest
brick-and-mortar electronics company’s decision to cut ties with
the Russian firm will also likely impact its revenue from the
home user stream, McGeorge noted.
Kaspersky is registered with the FSB, Russia’s spy agency,
but it claims it has no connection to Russian
“Kaspersky Lab doesn’t have inappropriate ties with any
government,” the firm told Business Insider in a statement
last month. The company said no credible evidence has
established ties to ties between Kaspersky and the Kremlin, and
that it’s merely “caught in the middle of a geopolitical fight”
and being treated unfairly.
It did not return a request for comment about the US
government’s latest move against it, though Putin’s spokesperson,
Dmitry Peskov, said Russia “regrets” the decision.
Peskov told journalists on Thursday the US’
action “cast a shadow over the image of our American
colleagues as reliable partners” and was designed to cripple
Kaspersky’s competitive advantage on the international
‘There is something more afoot’ vis-a-vis Kaspersky’s
The government’s decision to penalize Kaspersky could
also bear implications for the US cybersecurity industry, which
sells plenty of software to Russian companies and banks, as well
as other foreign corporations.
“These types of actions can sometimes have consequences,”
Martin said, adding that Russia could theoretically “turn around
and ban Russian companies from buying US cybersecurity
Indeed, a similar event occurred in 2015, when China
removed Apple and Cisco from its approved list of
technology vendors after Edward Snowden disclosed that the
National Security Agency regularly accessed US company data and
hardware to spy on foreign adversaries.
Despite the risks, however, cybersecurity experts were
unequivocal in their assessment that the US government made the
right call in blacklisting Kaspersky.
There is no concrete evidence available to the public
indicating that Kaspersky engaged in any wrongdoing as far
as working with the Russian government goes. That said, “there
may very well be classified intelligence showing that there’s
some collusion” between Kaspersky and the Kremlin, Martin said,
adding that if that were the case, “it wouldn’t be totally
Key figures in the US intelligence community, as well as
President Donald Trump’s cybersecurity adviser and Democratic and
Republican lawmakers, have repeatedly warned against using
Rob Joyce, the Trump’s administration’s cybersecurity
coordinator, said last month
that he does not use the firm’s products.
“I worry that as a nation state Russia really hasn’t done
the right things for this country and they have a lot of control
and latitude over the information that goes to companies in
Russia,” Joyce said. “So I worry about that.”
Michael Morell, the former deputy director of the CIA, also
reiterated the intelligence community’s belief of a link
between Kaspersky and the Kremlin. “There is a connection between
Kaspersky and Russian intelligence, and I’m absolutely certain
that Russian intelligence would want to use that connection to
their advantage,” Morell told CBS
McGeorge said that whatever evidence the intelligence
community has of Kaspersky’s involvement in Russia’s cyber
campaign has motivated the US government “to significantly
degrade Kaspersky’s ability to do effective business in the
The frequent warnings from US lawmakers, “combined with the
decision by Best Buy, who is not an arm of the US government,
suggests that there is something more afoot” regarding
Kaspersky’s ties to the Kremlin, he added.
Eugene Kaspersky, the firm’s founder, accepted an
invitation on Thursday to testify before the House Committee
on Science, Space, and Technology over the security of his
company’s products. His appearance before the US Congress will
mark the highest-profile attempt yet to address longstanding
accusations that Kaspersky could be working as an arm of the